While working in the IT business for over 2 years now I have to admit I’ve seen a lot of presentations. Most of those presentations where, of course, IT related but not all of them. I also attended some presentations about different subjects like project management, social media and business process management. The difference I see between IT related presentations and ‘the others’ is that within IT related presentations there are always some, most of the time a lot, slides filled with models, charts and drawn process models.
Ok, I admit. Not only in the IT business it’s like this. In general people like to put too much on slides. You can say that most people are writers although they don’t really see themselves that way. People are putting so much on a slide or in a whole slide deck that they are actually writing a whole book or making a handout. And we all know that a book and a handout are for reading and slides can be seen as ‘speakers support tools’.
I keep asking people: “how many times you’ve seen/attended a presentation where you almost fell asleep with or didn’t understand because the slides were full of text?” If you see a whole diagram in front of you, you have to take the time to read it. It’s kind of hard to read when someone is actually talking to you or skips the slide because it isn’t that relevant according to the speaker or he talks way too fast.
Before you even open your presentation making software and start working on your deck, you need to ask yourself the following two questions:
- Am I creating a document or a presentation?
- Is it more important if they listen or if they read?
If you want to give a presentation you should not create that document on screen, you should put your story on paper and hand it out after the presentation. Give your audience that extra attention that it needs and give them something to think about and to read about when you’re done.
So what can we learn from the above? Actually pretty much. We all know that we don’t have to put too much on slides but we keep doing it. Why? Because we hate white spaces? Because we think information needs to be shared? Stop right there. It’s not about the ‘we’ when we are giving a presentation, it’s about them, the audience.
What else is there that you should really have to pay attention to?
- If the content of a slide don’t further your story, cut it out!
- Always think of your audience first and keep your slides simple and your talk as short as possible.
- If the message can be designed with fewer elements than there’s no point in using more.
- Images/photos are a powerful and natural way for humans to communicate, so use them.
- Think like a designer. Go over your slides again and again and again. Try to give it your best and think about every move you make.
- Handouts can set you free. A handout can let you accelerate at making your best slide deck ever.
You may think now: “a handout can set me free?” Free from what? Being boring? Being ordinary? A handout frees your mind, it (can) improve your slides, and it makes your audience happy! So what should it look like? It should be preferably 1 page long (up to 3 pages is still ok, but shorter is better, otherwise people won’t bother reading) and it should describe what you have talked about in the presentation. Remember: it must be a story and not just your slides. Of course adding your slides on the handout is ok but just put them in there as a sort of attachment.
Should I give my handout to my audience before or after the presentation? The advice I always give is to give it after! Why should a listener bother with the presentation if they have the summary in front of them? If you do so also tell your audience that they will receive one after the presentation. This way they don’t have to write stuff down and can focus completely on you and your story.
In short a handout should have the following things:
- It should keep your storyline as told on stage, don’t introduce new elements.
- It’s ok to use images but it’s also ok if you don’t.
- Add some ‘further reading’. You can create a ‘further reading section’ at the end of your handout and name some sources (books, websites).
- Add your contact details!